Sermon Illustrations


There was a commander from the land of Aram by the name of Naaman. He was a great warrior, brave and strong against the country’s foes. A great warrior, Naaman. He had oniy one problem, but a huge one—he was a leper. He had contracted that terrible disease.

Leper Commander Naaman.

Now there was in his household a young girl, a captive of the land of Israel. There in the place of her captivity, she served Naaman’s wife. What makes the story happen is her attitude and her convictions. She had every right to despise Naaman, to regard him as an oppressor to be resented and destroyed. This servant girl did come up with a liberation

theology but it focused more on her captor than herself. Instead ofjudgment against Naaman, she spoke good news to him. “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria!” she says to her mistress. “He would cure him of his leprosy” (v. 3).

That word from the girl sets some mighty things in motion. The king of Aram writes a letter to be given to the king of Israel. It is sent on ahead by diplomatic pouch and Naaman sets off for Israel. Actually, he goes off in a procession with wagon after wagon of stuff, including ten talents of silver, six thousand gold shekels, and ten sets of festal garments, along with his staff and guards.

An odd thing happens. When the king of Israel receives the letter about Naaman’s impending arrival, he becomes paranoid. He rends his royal garments, tears them in shreds, muttering about trickery Clearly this is a trick by Aram’s king! “Am I God,” he cries, “to give death or life?... Just look. . .how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me” (v. 7). So look at the poor king of Israel, kneeling there in shreds, seeing plots and trickery everywhere. Sound familiar?

But events do not halt with paranoia. Elisha, the man of God, hears about the king’s reaction and sends him a message by prophetic pouch. “Let him come to me,” Elisha announces, “that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel” (v. 8). By the way, notice that in this welcome is the same insistence on hospitality that is always characteristic of God’s people.

Foreign commander, smitten with leprosy? “Let him come.” In fact, what the king forgets is that he is, by God, the chief officer of Israel’s hospitality At least that was what he was supposed to be. All of these events now lead to this scene at Elisha’s little house in Samaria. Around the bend in the road comes Naaman’s entourage. At first, only a column of dust on the horizon; but now as it lumbers up the road, Naaman gives the signal to halt. There in the noontime sun is the squeal of axles on the carts, the shouts of the drivers pulling in the reins on those treasure wagons, the clinking of the armor and swords of the guards. Then all the noise dies down. The dust slowly blows away and a silence settles in on the column, broken only by the occasional snort of a horse or the cough of a soldier clearing his throat. Otherwise nothing happens. Nothing at Elisha’s little house or in Naaman~s long convoy Nothing, out in the bright sun.

Finally though, there is movement. A messenger comes out of Elisha’s house, comes over to Commander Naaman and speaks: “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean” (v. 10). A simple prescription from Doctor Elisha, “Wash in Jordan times seven.” Elisha’s signature at the bottom. Oh, and he’s checked the box that says, “May not be substituted by a generic.”

Naaman’s response: He “became angry” He became self-righteously indignant and insufferably defensive. Naaman blurts out for all to hear, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy” (v. 11). What ensues is a geography lesson about the rivers of Damascus compared to all the waters of Israel. Which may be translated, “I want my money’s worth! A fair exchange with God.” Naaman sounds like a kid arguing with his mother. “Unfair,” he shouts. Just listen to his argument: “On my side, I’ve brought all the wagons crammed with talents and shekels, not to mention the ten festal gar-ments.” Then comes Naaman’s demand of God: “In exchange for all this stuff, I want some bona fide and dramatic ceremony!” As to the prophet’s prescription, “Wash times seven,” Naaman sputters, “Unfair!” (Which, of course, we might add it is.)

We, too, come with all our wagons. Oh, not filled with Naaman’s loot. But filled nonetheless. What’s in our wagons—for our fair exchange with God? Maybe a wagonload of promises to serve...

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